Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Another of life's little mysteries: Bisbee, Arizona

Looking downhill toward the center of town in Bisbee, Arizona. 
How did Bisbee, Arizona, go from dying mining town to artist's colony and major tourist attraction? Good question. We did a brief visit to Bisbee the other day, briefer than it probably merited because we were actually more interested in visiting Coronado National Memorial and then shopping in Sierra Vista than we were in exploring in depth the charms of a historic district that comes close to being vertical. At one time, Bisbee was a booming mining town with one major drawback.There isn't much level ground. Everything ended up perching on the very steep sides of a canyon.

This verticality does seem to be a standard feature of mining towns. Virginia City, Nevada, has many buildings where on one side you walk in at ground level, go up or down a couple flights of stairs, walk out the building on the other side and once again you're at ground level. Ditto Houghton and Hancock, Michigan, although not quite as dramatically. You don't have to climb staircases (or at least not very many of them) to go straight up or down hills. In Bisbee, a person would either have to go a long way around or be prepared to do a lot of stair climbing. Residents there definitely have lots of opportunity for cardio.
One of several art cars I spotted in Bisbee. This one happened to be political in theme; the others were more eccentric.

But back to the mystery of Bisbee evolving into a tourist attraction. Why and how? It's not really on the way to any place else except maybe Mexico. Did it become an artist's retreat when Sedona got to be too expensive? It's still possible to live fairly cheaply in Bisbee. The historic cliff dwelling houses can be a tad pricey, but if you go out not far from "Old Bisbee" prices drop dramatically. There's a lot of commercial space in the historic district that probably rents relatively cheaply for artists galleries. It must, considering just how many "galleries" there are.

Bisbee does work hard at attracting visitors. They have various events and festivals on a regular basis and make sure they're well-advertised in a pretty wide area. The weekend before we were there, they had a race with a course that involved running up and down the gazillion stairs in town. No doubt it attracted a fair number of participants because runners tend to be a masochistic lot who love a challenge. There was another event scheduled for this past weekend -- we missed it because we were there on a Friday and the event was set for Saturday.
Flies on the exterior wall of the mining museum in Bisbee

Maybe one of the charms of visiting Bisbee is that if you want to stay there your lodging options are totally non-franchised. There are a fair number of hotels, inns, bread and breakfasts, and every single one of them is in an old building: the historic Copper Queen Hotel, the Copper Inn, the Inn at Castlerock, and a dozen others are all old construction. Very old construction. Ditto dining opportunities: no chains, just local restaurants, cafes, and brew pubs all occupying space in historic buildings. Old Bisbee is a National Historic District so buildings may get repurposed but they're unlikely to get torn down. If you want to escape homogenous American culture, mass marketing, and strip mall architecture Bisbee might be one place to do it.

Note to self: the next time we decide to play tourist somewhere, make sure camera battery is fully charged so it's possible to take more than 3 pictures. I was unable to take any photos of the nifty industrial archeology elements, like the Lavender Pit, because by the time we saw them the camera battery was too low.

1 comment:

My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.